Calling All Data Companies: Respect Users

bigstock-Eye-viewing-digital-informatio-38559739

Today, in the information age, there is more data and access to that data than ever before. More information can improve our lives, help us filter, get to the relevant information, save time, be more efficient. When I built Sailthru, that was always and continues to be my mission: use technology to help improve the lives of consumers. This goal in turn helps brands, as well. I say it often, “respect the end user,” look after them and everyone wins. Failure to be transparent with a user is unacceptable. Unfortunately, we do see other data and technology companies that are not thinking user-first. 

Enterprise data and analytics company, Acxiom, exists in a grey area within the big data industry: they sell individual user data as the base layer of their “Audience Operating System”. With personal data exploitation concerns on the rise, Acxiom, smartly, is aiming to be more prescriptive on their practices, associate themselves as a “careful” data organization and empower end-users to manage their own consumer profiles. Yet there’s a flipside to this openness; is it showing greater end-user respect or less?

Acxiom recently launched AboutTheData, and they essentially said, “Yes, we sell your data, but now you can see what we’re selling and hopefully you’ll understand our business better.” The microsite gives users the chance to update their own data, which is based on all forms of public data from voter files to warranties. In an interesting Facebook comment exchange, former Wall Street Journal reporter, Jessica Lessin and several of her past colleagues gave the site a spin. Unanimously the site had information wrong or lacking on each person from items as relatively basic as ethnicity, marital status, political affiliation and number of children. The problem is that Acxiom is focusing solely on the demographic data, it’s the opposite of personalization. The reactions of a handful of skilled reporters seemed to range from head-shaking irritation to prompting a good laugh. 

Acxiom’s decision to ask for information from users feeds off today’s digital narcissism. This information includes a user’s address and last-4 digits of their social security number and all the system does is give their information back to them. The main beneficiary of this type of data collection is Acxiom – in theory they can charge more for better data. Read their privacy policy closely and you’ll clearly see that it’s not for the user’s benefit, “to access data about you, you are required to provide personally identifiable information…the information you provide may be shared…we may use it to make this site easier for you to use and to inform you of…other related information from Acxiom.” 

Especially today, companies dealing with big data must be extra careful to respect the privacy of their audience while also meeting consumer expectations of what technology can understand about them. You don’t want your marketing team to be caught both inviting users to do their work for them and showing how poorly it had been done to date. 

One of our key values at Sailthru is to respect the consumer and to look after user data. We do not buy or sell user data, we are committed to creating stronger relationships between the brand and the consumer and the way you do that is through trust and security to protect that data. Fortunately, we’re not the only ones who feel this way. Across the digital marketing industry, commerce businesses, publishing houses – you name it – the key to thriving in today’s user-controlled marketplace is respecting the users at every turn. We create user profiles that are unique within the ecosystem of each brand and the data that they choose to collect over time. This is because personalization is both user-specific as well as brand-specific. I implore all brands to take a closer look and ask the question. “Will this help my end customer? Can I protect their data and maintain the customer’s trust?” If the answer to both those questions is yes then by all means move forward and if not, it’s time to re-evaluate.